Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

(My comments at Wes’s Celebration of Life, November 21, 2022, Memorial Road Church of Christ, Oklahoma City, OK.)

I first met Wes Harrison the summer of 1967. He and David Rivoire, both transfers from York College, were joining our campaign team to do mission work in the NE United States for twelve weeks before starting our junior year at Harding. The  summer of 1967 was tumultuous: race riots in Florida, NJ, Milwaukee, the Vietnam War escalating. LBJ was a very unpopular president, and the 6-Day War between Israel and the Arab world changed the landscape of the Middle East, the consequences of which we still live with.

When I met Wes in 1967, Wes was focused on one thing only: helping people by telling them who Jesus is.  About a month ago, my wife Sherrylee and I were visiting with Wes and Glenna. We heard all about his teaching a class, and serving the Afganis, and working in the international ministry and…….and Wes was still focused on one thing:  helping people know who Jesus is. 

Fifty-five years! Much has changed since the summer of ’67, but the fact of darkness in the world and the need for the Light has not changed.  If Wes was anything, he was tenacious. He had a calling to be a teacher… and nothing distracted him from that task.

We did not know in 1967 how intertwined our lives were going to be.  By the end of that summer, our friendship had grown, so I invited him to be my roommate the next year.  We were in the same social club, we competed against each other, playing tennis, handball, basketball. Wes played everything! He was fit. He was strong! He wanted to win. And no one worked harder than Wes to accomplish their goals.

The only person who could give Wes a run for his money was….Glenna. Oh, Wes loved Glenna—but she was way out of his league. That fact did not deter Wes in the least. It was during their sometimes stormy courtship that Wes introduced me to Roy Orbison, and we would play songs like “Crying,” and “Just Running Scared” over and over again to deal with the ups and downs of their courtship. And they found a way to become “Wes and Glenna”—which is the only way any of us who have ever known them can talk about them!

Wes and the rest of us graduated from Harding in 1969, but there were several of us who had worked on Campaigns Northeast together who decided during our senior year to form a mission team and go somewhere together. Two years later, the Rivoires and Woodwards got on the plane for Germany, but the Harrisons had not succeeded yet in securing their support.  Did I mention that Wes was tenacious. He and Glenna continued to knock on that door when others would have quit! A little over a year later, Wes, Glenna, and 3-month old Janean joined us in Munich. God had blessed their faithfulness and sent them to complete our mission team.

They served in Hannover, they served in Kaiserslautern, they served in Portland, Oregon, they served in West Virginia, and they served in Oklahoma. They taught Laotians, they taught Koreans, they taught Burmese, they taught Chinese, they taught Afghanis, they taught their children Wesley and Janean, they taught other people’s children at Columbia Christian, Alderson Broaddus University, and Ohio Valley College,  Wes taught his grandsons whom he adored Jackson, Harrison, ….Wes was called to teach, and he did it with love and compassion, with conviction, with humor, and did I say, conviction! 

As every good teacher must be, Wes was a student. He read and studied and poured over materials. He delighted in teaching you something he read yesterday. My strongest memory of the time when we roomed together is of him sitting at his desk, making detailed notes of what he needed to learn. He might get up and walk on his hands for a while to get the blood circulating again, but then back to studying!!

When God took Wes home, Wes was sitting at his desk. How appropriate. Wes had been looking into the mirror darkly, but now he is seeing Him face-to-face. He lived his whole life for that moment.  That’s what we are celebrating today!

And now I want to share just a brief word to Glenna, Janean, Wesley, and the rest of us—as, I’m pretty sure, Wes would have done.  I believe with all my heart that Jesus died to wash away our sins, atoning for us and redeeming us. But the death of Jesus accomplished even more:

Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death

Just think about all we do in our culture to avoid death : our culture of youth, of beauty, of health and fitness—everything to try to stave off death and dying. Our world is captured and held slave by the fear of death

Here is what I believe Wes now knows and would want you to know:  The Devil holds the power of death—and so we die—as did the Son of God in flesh and blood when he took on the SIN of the world. BUT the minute HE died, Death and the Devil were defeated eternally, because Jesus was not dead and in that tomb. His body was there, but Jesus was alive and preaching!  And the power of LIFE eternal was so strong that on Sunday morning, that Body came alive—transformed but alive. Jesus was the first, and those like Wes who have been crucified and buried with Christ, will be raised with Him also to Life Eternal.

This is Good News! I used to think that what the Hebrew writer meant by saying that we were freed from slavery to the fear of death, that he was just saying, we don’t have to be afraid of dying any more, but I believe now it is more than that.  Glenna, we also do not have to be afraid of what death can take from us.  Death has a sting. That is why we have tears today. But Death has no power to take Life or Love from us. Death is defeated. We are FREE at last from Slavery to the Fear of Death.

I don’t know why Jesus was weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. For Lazarus? For Mary and Martha? Because everyone was? For the Pain of Death in the World?? But he wept, and so do we. In just a moment, however, we believe we will hear the voice of Jesus calling loudly, “Come out of that grave!” And Wes will rise up, and we will meet Jesus and finally and completely be free, replacing tears with joy and praise—forever.  Come, Lord Jesus!

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I wish I could say that I had been tramping through the desert to smuggle Bibles or to reach some lost tribe that had never heard the Story when the Devil appeared as a rattlesnake and bit me in order to slow the Ultimate Victory—but, alas, that is far, far away from the true story!  The true story is much less dramatic than you might imagine, but for curious minds, here is what happened.

About noon on Friday, April 28, 2017, Sherrylee, Mr. Bingley, and I left by car for California. The three of us anticipated reaching Albuquerque that evening for the first stop on what was to be a fourteen-day road trip, including four days at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures in Malibu, about four days in Escondido, CA with our daughter’s family, and a couple of days in Aguila, Arizona with my sister Betty, looking at a family history site.Bingley

Our first and last “warning” came about 3pm, when we stopped at a very nice roadside park to let Mr. Bingley, our little Havanese/Shitzu mix, walk around and relieve himself.  He has made this trip before and does quite well, with the exception that he can get motion sick, so we give him half of a Dramamine every 5-6 hours to help him out.  Anyway, as we are walking around near the children’s playground area, there is a big sign that says WATCH OUT FOR RATTLESNAKES. I took that sign seriously, as I walked Bingley around. We didn’t wander off into the open grassy areas, but stayed on the sidewatchout for rattlesnakewalks until all his needs were taken care of. Then off we went again further along Highway 287, anticipating driving through Amarillo about 6pm. 

At 5:30, we were about six miles south of Claude, Texas, and Bingley was a little restless, so we realized that he probably was about ready for another dose of Dramamine for his motion sickness.  Everyone knows that pulling off on the shoulders of a small highway can be a little risky, so we decided to pull over where there was actually a small dirt road intersecting our highway.

I was amused because the name on this dirt road that did not seem to lead to any destination in sight was Hotel Road. We only turned far enough onto Hotel road to clear the shoulder of the highway, then we stopped, not fearing that we would be interfering with any traffic on this dirt road.  I got out of the car, walked around the back of the car and to the back door of our four-door Honda Accord sedan. I opened the door to get Bingley’s medicine out of his duffel bag in the backseat, leaned in to get it, and

rattlesnakeBAM! Something bit me just above my right ankle—and it hurt!  I stepped back and looked down and there was a two to three foot long rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike again.   I had already yelled, “Something bit me” and Sherrylee looked out and saw—and heard—the snake rattling at that point. I remember looking for a rattle and seeing it, but I never heard a rattle before it struck. 

We must have pulled right up next to it as lay camouflaged on the side of the road. I had almost stepped on it without ever seeing or hearing it—which is why it bit me.  Having seen all I wanted to see, I shut the car door and backed away very quickly. The snake slithered away also, but by that time, I had all the facts I needed:  I had been bitten by a poisonous rattlesnake out in the middle of nowhere, so we needed to get somewhere and get medical help.

I jumped in the car and drove very quickly toward Claude while Sherrylee dialed 911.  The 911 operator told us to go to a big gas station in Claude and wait and they would send an EMS team to us.  That sounded like a good plan. I wasn’t feeling bad, but my foot hurt, and I was pretty anxious.  About ten minutes passed, then the County Sheriff called to say that the EMS service was not the best idea and that we needed to get to the hospital ER in Amarillo!  That was over 30 miles away.

Sherrylee told him that he needed to provide us with a police escort, and he agreed, so we waited just a couple of more minutes and a police SUV pulled in front of the station. Together we raced to the county line which was where Hwy. 287 junctions with I-40 just east of Amarillo. And when I say raced, I mean 95-100mph!!

The Potter County police were supposed to pick us up there. We saw them heading toward us but on the opposite side of the road. The police called us and said to continue, and they would try to catch up with us.  They did not know, however, how determined Sherrylee was to get me to the hospital before . . . .

6:15 pm on the main Amarillo highway!  You can imagine what the traffic was like, and it had begun to rain! Sherrylee, emergency lights flashing, sat on the horn and moved people out ofNW Texas her way like her life—no, my life—depended on it, and we pulled up to the Emergency entrance of the Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo, the main trauma center for that region.


I limped through the emergency door straight to the desk and said, “I have been bit by a rattlesnake!”  The nurse took my name and information, then made me a wrist bracelet and said, “I have already called the pharmacy and ordered the anti-venom!”  That was a good sign! (Weekends can be tricky at hospitals, or so I’ve heard.)

The hospital staff proved to be wonderful and extraordinarily competent!  We waited about two hours because there was no swelling in my foot. Did you know that about 50% of all rattlesnake bites are “dry,” that is, the snake injects no venom.  Grown snakes can control how much they use; baby rattlesnakes can’t, which is why they are more dangerous.  So the doctor held off on the anti-venom, hoping that it was a dry bite.

After two hours, my foot did start swelling and the pain increased immensely, so we started the anti-venom serum Crofab. It took about 8-10 hours to get the serum in and the pain under control, but after that it was just managing the pain.  All to say that by noon Saturday, I was feeling great except that it was excruciatingly painful to lower my foot to the floor.

That became the big question: when they released me: how was I going to get around?  By Sunday afternoon, the physical therapy team had been called for an evaluation, so when they came, we tried out walkers, then crutches. I actually discovered while we were testing this equipment that the longer I stood on my foot, the better it felt. Crutches in hand, I was discharged that afternoon.

Because of unbelievable weather conditions—snow, ice, and 60 mph straight winds in Amarillo—on Sunday, we had already decided to wait until Monday to return home. Continuing on to California did not seem like a very good idea.

Sherrylee drove us home Monday at a much-reduced rate of speed, and we arrived safely about 6pm, to be greeted by this sign by our driveway!  It’s good to laugh about it now.Snake sign.jpg


I’m very thankful to God for guarding us, to the doctors and staff at Northwest Texas Hospital for their personal concern and excellent care, and to Sherrylee for her love and attention, and for being an exceptionally strong and competent partner—for better and for worse.

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Vukovar watertower after the war

Vukovar watertower after the war

Today Sherrylee and I walked along the beautiful Danube River in a small town in Croatia you have never heard of called Vukovar. We ate at a local pizzeria, then because it was an unusually sunny, warm day, we decided to walk over to the war memorial cross, thinking this was probably another WWII memorial. Not true!

In 1991, the beautiful little town of Vukovar was demolished by shelling, leveled by bombing, and finally massacred as the first victim of the breakup of Yugoslavia after the death of Tito. Located just within the borders of Croatia, Vukovar had been home to a minority of Croatian Serbians. The Serbian minority was fearful of what their ancient enemies the Croats might do to them if Croatia became an independent state, so they called on Serbia to “liberate” them. Serbia saw this as an opportunity to gain new territory and to weaken, if not completely overrun, the new Croatian state.

And so the Serbs invaded Croatia, layed siege to Vukovar, and in August 1991, launched as many as 12,000 shells per day into the city. By November, the obliterated city surrendered, but even this did not bring an end to the horror. Croatian prisoners of war as well as approximately 300 hospital patients were taken out to a farm and shot, then buried in a mass grave. Then 31,000 Croatians were expelled from their homes, one more horrible case of ethnic cleansing—and not the last.

Not until 1998 did Vukovar regain its independence, and in 1999, Croatian refugees began coming back to their homes under the watch of UN peacekeepers. Today, the city is only about half the size it was in 1991, much less prosperous, and once again Croatians and Serbs are living in the same city—but not together!

The Croats and Serbs are segregated both legally and socially. Separate schools, separate neighborhoods, separate alphabets, even separate churches. The war memorials are all for Croatian victims, the parades and the holidays are Croatian, so the Croatian Serbs are at best marginalized and at worst hated.

Does this sound similar to the Russian/Ukranian conflict now? What about the plight of Israeli Palestinians? And then, of course, we know what happened in Rwanda– and the ongoing crisis in Sudan, and . . . does the story never end? Even the rising racial tension in the U.S. contains hateful elements of this story.

About six years ago, a couple of Croatian Christians moved by themselves to Vukovar to bring the Peace of Christ. They were not really trained church planters; rather, they just loved people both Croats and Serbs! They have not been successful in starting a church, but they have been very successful in creating a movement called Dolina Blagoslova, or The Valley of Blessings. They host special events, they host radio programs—even local cable-TV programs—promoting what is good, pure, wholesome, peaceful—yes, peaceful for both Croats and Serbs. Their goal is to win the hearts and minds of good people in Vukovar by doing what is good and thereby prepare the way for the Prince of Peace. The Valley of Blessing program is known by Croats and Serbs throughout the city as a peace movement and has built up a strong reputation.

In the last few months, the churches of Christ in Croatia have come along side this work and have agreed to provide new funds for a meeting place as well as the impetus and vision for expansion. We were invited there to bring the Let’s Start Talking program as a small part of this new impetus.

I was watching a documentary on the Ukrainian crisis the other night and amidst all the bullets and bombs, one young woman cries out, “After all these centuries, have we not learned a better way of settling our differences than killing each other?”

Our politicians want either to build walls or to show strength, neither of which sounds very Christ-like to me. I’m convinced that when the angels announced Peace on earth that the One they were announcing is the only way to peace. And in the very face of scourging, abuse, and executions, His words were of forgiveness, not of retaliation.

The hope for reconciliation in Vukovar is the same as the hope for peace in Ukraine or Sudan or Israel or Syria or . . . . Our sole hope is that the Prince of Peace is victorious.

And He is!

That is our only message.

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I posted this a couple of years ago, but I’m now organizing a 50th year Reunion for my own class of 1965 at Fort Worth Christian, so I thought it might be appropriate once more.

Last weekend was Homecoming at Fort Worth Christian School—my high school alma mater—do you say alma mater for a high school??  Only once since 1965 have I attended FWC’s Homecoming, and then it was just the football game, so I hardly saw anyone I knew.

This Homecoming was very different. Good friends of ours had spent months, if not a whole year, organizing a 50ish Homecoming reunion for the FWC classes of 61, 62, 63, and 64, the very first graduating classes.  FWC was such a small school in those early years that even though my class was a year later, I had sung in the chorus, played sports, played in the band, and been friends with these older guys.  I actually had a role in the Senior Play for three years—and no, I wasn’t a senior for three years! We were just a small school, so we knew each other!

As if one reunion wasn’t enough, my brother and sister’s class (68) also had a big reunion and I decided to go with Gary to it as well. What was I thinking!

I love the history that reunions recall.  I loved the old pictures of cheerleaders in skirts below their knees. I was amazed at the pictures of the empty sheep pasture where the school was built—in the middle of nowhere—an area now surrounded ten miles deep in a heavily populated area of the city.  I used to be able to stand on “the hill” as we called it then, and see about twelve miles to the grain elevator in Saginaw.  Now, there are so many trees, people don’t know why the area is called College Hill. The trees have overwhelmed the geography!

I was also shocked at the blatant racism in some of the programs we put on in the earliest years. I’m pretty sure I played in the band for these minstrel shows, but I was retrospectively glad that my name was not in the printed program. I remember a big fight we had one year over allowing a child to tap dance in the FWC talent show. We eventually banned tap dancing—for fear of lust, I suppose—but at the same time, we didn’t recognize real racial prejudice in ourselves.  I hope this means we have learned a lot in the last fifty years.

I had forgotten how many of my classmates married right out of high school. Many of them married each other! And most of them are divorced.  You probably think that should have been expected with them marrying so young, but not necessarily.  Most, if not all of our parents married pretty young as well, and they stayed together.  But not the newly-weds of the 60s.  Divorce, which was taboo in the 50s, became an everyday reality in the 60s.  Today, it is hardly a even a category label.  Maybe we haven’t learned so much in the last fifty years.

The people missing at the reunion also had a lot to say.  A surprising number had already passed away, at least one is in prison, some had moved far away from Ft. Worth and made lives very distant from their high school years, some were embarrassed to come, several had grandkids in football games competing with the reunion and, of course, the grandkids won, and, I suppose, some just didn’t want to come.

That’s ok.  High school friendships only stick if you live continuously near classmates that you were great friends with.  Notwithstanding our skinny black ties and white jackets or the girls’ skirts and beehive flips–those styles that make us look older to our grandkids, we were just kids.

High school was a great time. FWC, even in its infancy, was a place where we had good friends and  where committed teachers inspired us—most of them anyway.  The fact that now we’ve gained weight and/or gone bald, succeeded and/or failed, been happy and/or hurt in life, grown emotionally or not—not many if any of the outcomes of our lives can we blame on high school.

Did you know that the letter jacket worn by Fonzie in Happy Days is on exhibit in the Smithsonian? 

A little nostalgia is good for everyone,  but high school was an isolated moment in time, put on exhibit at your reunion for a brief visit, then you walk out the door into what the real world has become for you.

The trees that have grown up around high school have changed the geography, haven’t they!

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garage-salePreparing for a garage sale of my Mom’s things has been a life-changing experience for me.

My parents were pretty typical of people who were born in the 20s, spent their youth during the Depression of the 30s, were young adults during WWII, a young family in the 50s, struggled a bit through the sixties, aged in the 70s and 80s. Dad died in 1989. Mom lived by herself but continued to work another ten years, then she grew frail and died this year at the age of 91.

That’s a summary of two people’s lives in just four lines of words—more than most people get.

Financially, I think they were pretty average as well. Dad grew up as an only child in a small Kansas town. His father managed the grain elevator for 42 years, so they had a good, steady income, but nothing lavish. Mom grew up on a farm in Justin, Texas, one of 12 children. Her father died in a wagon accident when she was a young teenager, and her mother stayed on the farm with some of her sons for many more years—just sustaining the family, not accumulating much materially.

Mom and Dad married in June 1945, both of them with what we today would call good marketable skills. Dad had chosen extensive technical training in electronics over college. He was first a radio operator for Braniff Airways, then worked for Bendix, training people to repair the fantastically popular, newly affordable televisions.  When they moved to Fort Worth with their toddler son (me!) in 1949, they rented a small 900 sf house. Shortly after the twins were born in 1950, they bought their first house—a modest two-bedroom frame home in a new neighborhood—very middle class for the 1950s.

Dad worked hard, managing the Electronics Department for Leonard’s Department Store—the Macy’s of Fort Worth in the 50s. Mom stayed home and had child #4 in 1955. We were now a family of six in two bedrooms and one car, but we had all we needed–not everything we wanted—pretty much like everyone that we knew!

In 1958, we moved to a new 1300 sf  three-bedroom house near the new Christian school (FWC)—a big stretch financially for our family. The house payments were $74/month and tuition was $10/month per child.  We couldn’t really afford it, so when I was in the 7th grade, I started working off my tuition by sweeping classroom floors after school each day, a job I continued until I graduated from high school.

The 60s were hard on the family. Dad’s health began to fail to the point that he lost his job. Mom had gone to work shortly before #5 was born in 1961. We kids were pretty much on our own to figure out money for college—or not! But that was pretty normal too.

When Dad died in 1989, he left Mom less life insurance than the funeral cost, but the house was paid off and with no large outstanding debts, her income from teaching during the day and working at Foley’s at night, enabled her to live modestly.   We teased her that she took advantage of her Foley’s discount so often that she probably lost money by working at Foley’s.  She was of that generation that just could not pass up a big discount or a great bargain—even for things you didn’t really need right then—because you might need it later and you might not have the money for it then.

So, for the last 20 years of her life, Mom accumulated—nothing expensive, nothing even of great sentimental value.  Between Foley’s and garage sales, Mom accumulated!

Now she was not a hoarder like you see on TV, but she did have a hard time throwing anything away.  She was very generous about giving things to people if she thought they would like it—but she didn’t give things away, just to clear out space—nothing.

So now that she is gone, that is our task.  So much of what she collected over the years is completely valueless now—shells, rocks, newspaper clippings, shoes, clothes, cheap pictures of The Last Supper, fingernail clippers, pens, books—yes, even books.

That’s one of the transformative things that I’ve learned. No one wants old books—not rare books—just old books. My dad was a voracious reader, He had hundreds of books, many James Hilton paperbacks, Mathematics for the Millions, Fort Worth Christian Lectures, English-Spanish Dictionary, Complete Concordance of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and on and on.  He loved those books; I loved them too!

And I’m sitting in my office looking at a whole wall full of my books now, thinking to myself, “Why am I saving these books? My kids will have to go through them, just like we are, and they will have to throw most of them away!”

And then I sit in our living room and look around at the little brass table that we found at an estate sale in Germany, and the two end tables that we splurged on in Oklahoma City when we first moved back to the States, and the light fixture that Sherrylee found in the antique store in South Dakota, and the many baskets that she likes to decorate with. OK, that’s just stuff!

But what about the beautiful rug that we paid good money for in Turkey, the silver that I gave to Sherrylee as a wedding present (actually only a couple of place settings), the little nutcrackers that we’ve had since our days in Germany, the etching of the Marktkirche in Hannover or the Matrushka dolls made to resemble our family from Russia????? This is not “stuff!” These are from our LIFE! These are our history! Grab the pictures! Find the home movies! That’s what we save from the fire!!

The garage sale at Mom’s has been a good reminder to me that we are going to leave it all, that someday our family pictures will be hanging in Cracker Barrel, that what we are so emotionally attached to is, in truth, just stuff to those without our memories.

If you don’t really believe that moths and rust don’t eat up all your earthly “treasures,” just come to our garage sale on Saturday!

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Rainy-Day-HD-ImagesI woke up this Saturday to a bright, sunny spring world—horribly incongruous to the reality of what happened on Friday.  If this were a movie—which it is not—Saturday would be overcast with a weepy downpour, not the crashing thunder of Friday evening, but the low rumble of distant disruption.  The creation would be mourning the death of its Creator.

The disciples were huddled together behind closed doors on Saturday.  A few were so weary with fear from Friday that they had slept. They had slept while Jesus prayed in Gethsemane—the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Some perhaps wandered in early Saturday morning after a sleepless night of hiding, lest they too be crucified.

Only John had actually been at the cross. Had he and Mary the Mother cried together all night? He was now responsible for her and he didn’t know what that meant.  Over and over he had had to tell the others what he had witnessed: the nails, the jeering, the darkness, the Words, the End. He told of the surprise that Nicodemus and Joseph had shown up to bury the Body.

The women disciples were with the men—all the Marys, Joanna, the others—they had wanted to finish annointing the Body, but they had not been prepared on Friday evening to finish before the sun set, so they would get it all together on Saturday, then go early Sunday morning and finish.

Peter—Jesus had called him a Rock, but it turns out he was just dust! He had been so brave when Judas and the others had shown up among the olive trees, but Jesus had healed the very one he had slashed.  How was he supposed to feel about that? It really took the wind out of his sails. He did follow as they led Jesus away, but he couldn’t—didn’t—follow as far as John had gone—and that had been when it happened.  He hadn’t meant to curse—it just came out of his fear!  When the rooster crowed, his heart broke.  He was no Rock.  He was as bad as Judas.

For three years this small group had been with Jesus.  For three years they had seen him do the unexplainable! He turned water to wine, walked on water, healed the lame and the blind—even raised the dead. They believed in him. He was the Messiah they had hoped for—though different from what they expected.  He had promised to be with them—but he had lived very dangerously, even talked about going away—about dying—as  if he expected this!  They  had tried to protect him, but when he headed toward Jerusalem—they knew it was trouble!

Now here they sat. He was dead, his lifeless body lying shrouded in a tomb, sealed with a stone and guarded by the Romans so that no one could steal him away and fabricate hope. They were alone—and afraid.  The Jews and the Romans could have saved the expense of guarding the tomb.  These disciples were not leaving the room! Saturday was a bad, bad day!

And what about Jesus?

On Friday afternoon, His Spirit had left His Body and gone into the Hands of God the Father. Peter would later write about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison and there are several references to his descension, so perhaps He spent Saturday harrowing hell and bringing Good News to those who had longed for His coming, but died before the fullness of time.  Much we don’t really know, but this we know:

His body was in the tomb, but His Spirit lived. He knew He would be reclothed—the temple would be rebuilt—in three days, so He was obediently waiting for the plan of God to unfold and Resurrection power to be released.  Where He was on Saturday was not dark and hopeless, rather the Light was brighter than ever, just waiting to explode and blow away the stone and the darkness!

Now the brilliant sunshine of this Saturday morning is starting to make sense to me.

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The_Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre-JerusalemOne of my biggest disappointments on our visits to Jerusalem is that the traditional site of Golgatha and the garden tomb of Jesus are completely encased, totally overwhelmed and obscured, by the church that was built to preserve and honor them.

Not long ago, I was driving in Dallas with our grandsons after a hockey game, when I realized that we were not far from Commerce Street and Dealey Plaza, so spontaneously, I decided to drive by and give them a little glimpse of the history of what happened there in 1963.  Little has changed on that historical spot.  The “grassy knoll” is there, the overpass, and the street follows the same path, so you know as you drive over the marker on the street that you are passing over the very spot where JFK died.

What Christians have done in Jerusalem would be like Americans enclosing all of Dealey Plaza in one or more connected museums, covering the grassy knoll in marble to “preserve” it, and allowing tourists to peer through a window the size of a 1950s TV screen at the X on the street, marking where the first bullet struck.

It’s quite true that landmarks, especially open-air landmarks, if not protected, tend to erode and disappear.  Even the museums that are built to protect them cannot really prevent disaster. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem  has burned several times, was literally shaken to pieces by earthquakes, and has been severely damaged by wars over the centuries.

One conclusion, therefore, is that in our attempts to preserve, we obscure at best and perhaps destroy that which we seek to venerate.

Sometime before 1839, a workman placed a ladder on a ledge above the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Shortly thereafter, the Christian churches (and Muslims) who were fighting over political control of the physical site agreed to a status quo for the sake of peace.  Today, 175 years later, that ladder remains above the door of the church.  Once again, because of the extreme desire for preservation, which in this case meant maintaining the status quo in all respects, even the peripheral becomes “holy.”   The ladder is today called the immovable ladder and is pointed out by the tourist guides.  Though not yet holy, I have no doubt that someone will find a way to sanctify it.

Another conclusion is that preservation often leads to defending the status quo, which inadvertently can transform common elements into sacraments. 

Today is Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday. We are remembering that Jesus was crucified.  For six hours, he suffered physically and spiritually because of our sins.

Finally, he died; the Son of God experienced the Curse in His flesh, but His Spirit passed into the hands of His Father who honored His death with Life.

It’s really not very important for Christians to preserve the hill or the cross or the robe or the tomb.  Preservation seems a dangerous and ultimately fruitless occupation.  It can lead to obscuring, even destroying that which is real!

What happened on that Friday really happened! Let’s don’t build museums around it; let’s don’t die warring over the status quo.

Let’s let the simple fact be true enough that we spend our lives believing it and living out its implications:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:8-11, NLT)

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dying-rose-bwc-big.jpgSince my Mom’s death in January, Sherrylee and I have spent five weeks in Europe, doing what we call site visits for the Let’s Start Talking Ministry

I think you will understand if I share with you that much of my thinking since January has been about death and dying.  I consciously decided not to write about it then because we Americans just don’t want to be reminded about our mortality too often.  We like happy endings.

The Germans even have the word Happy-end to describe American culture.  We like that—but they don’t really mean it as a compliment. They use that word more to describe Pollyannaism or a naïve positive bias toward life.

However, . . . .

Here we are just a few days from Easter, moving rapidly towards the Cross and the Tomb on Friday, so I suppose we must talk about death and dying.

The TV version of Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus was shown last Sunday. I didn’t watch it. I still haven’t recovered from Jim Bishop’s The Day Christ Died (1957) that preachers used over and over again to describe in lurid detail the horrors of the crucifixion.  You certainly haven’t forgotten the images of the savagely beaten and crucified Christ from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2005).

But here is what I’ve been thinking:  the horrible physical suffering of Jesus was not the death that Jesus pled with His Father about in Gethsemane.  Other people have died more violently than Jesus did. Others have been tortured longer than the six hours that Jesus hung on the Cross.

Our fascination with the details of his physical death represent our own fears of death—especially a violent, painful death.

Three weeks ago, Sherrylee and I flew one stretch of our European trip on Germanwings, the same airline whose plane crashed in France last week.  That same co-pilot who on that day killed himself and all the passengers might have been sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of our flight the week before.

Should we be afraid to fly Germanwings?   Should we be afraid to fly?   Should we be afraid?

Jesus was not afraid of death.  He turned his face toward Jerusalem, saying “It’s time!”  He rode the donkey through the gates of Jerusalem amid the Hallelujah’s and the waving palm branches, fully aware that the next crowd he saw would be calling for his crucifixion.  He praised the anointing of his feet because he knew the poor would always be with them, but he would not be.  He broke the bread and drank the cup of Passover with his closest followers, knowing that his next drink would be vinegar.

Jesus was not afraid of death. He went to his death, not because of the scheming of the Jews, not because of the callousness of Pilate, not because of the cold-bloodedness of the Roman soldiers, but because He was obedient:  by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)

Jesus was not afraid of death.  He knew that Friday must come before Sunday, so every day of his ministry, really every day of his life, he walked deliberately toward Friday, not rushing, but at the appointed pace, and when the Friday had come, Jesus was there.

We should not be afraid of death. We have the same promise of Life that Jesus had, but as with Him, so with us, Friday must come before Sunday.  To walk in His steps means to walk deliberately toward Friday, not rushing, but at the appointed pace.

There is no promise of eighty years, no promise of a peaceful passing, no promise that we won’t die before or after someone we love, no promise of anything but that our Father will receive our spirits and keep us until Sunday morning when the dead in Christ will rise!

Life is more certain than death!  Don’t be afraid of death.

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In Memoriam: Mom

sc00858ca6_face2Two weeks ago today, my mother Daisy Belle (Lyles) Woodward died peacefully in her home.  One week ago today, we buried her in a small country cemetery where her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are buried—as well as my dad and many of her brothers and sisters.  I just wanted to share with you today the eulogy that I delivered at her funeral.

Today is a day that we always knew would come; today was a day we never thought would come; ultimately, we bow our heads and say, “Today is the day the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it.”

There is much to be happy about today.

  • We the family are happy that you have honored our mother by coming to this service today. Thank you for your kind words, the beautiful memorials, the food you have brought, and for all your expressions of love.
  • We are happy because Mom was taken just as she had always prayed. She died quickly and peacefully in her own bed, not from disease, but from the call of God to her reward.
  • We are happy today because we believe God is faithful, so when He tells us the those who die in the Lord are happy, then we are happy because there is no doubt that Mom was in the Lord
    • Born in 1923, Mom was raised on a farm near Justin. Her’s was a Christian family. In fact, just a few years ago, while we were out with her on a Sunday drive, we drove past the old White’s Chapel cemetery and she told us that she and her father had ridden a wagon from Justin to White’s Chapel—sometime before she was 13 and I’m guessing, shortly after she was baptized at 12—to go to a Brush Arbor meeting on that site. If she grew up like that, it’s no wonder that she made sure we were at church every time the doors were open!sc00721ccf-001
    • Shortly after they married, my dad was immersed. Dad became a Sunday school teacher, a deacon, an elder at Midtown all during their marriage—and I’m pretty confident that Mom’s gentle and quiet spirit had something to do with his spiritual growth.IMAG0129_face0
    • We her children are thankful for what we have learned from her—both as children and as adults.
      • She loved us enough to discipline us: a fly swatter or ping pong paddle was always nearby. Once, I threw a dirt clod and hit Gary in the head and she put me in the closet to pray!!
      • She loved us enough to teach us to work. Mary K reminded me of how Mom would rise early on some summer mornings, wake us up, so we could all go out and pull weeds before it got too hot.
      • She taught us to share—Gary, Mary K, and I all shared a room (Betty, the baby was in Mom and Dad’s room) until I was almost 12. Then we moved out by Fort Worth Christian and had a three bedroom house—finally! But then Kenny was born, then Grandma Lyles came to live with us, then Grandma Woodward, and then a family at church had to move away in their son’s senior year at FWC, so Mom offered to let him stay with us!   We learned to share pretty much everything!
      • Mom taught us about perseverance in adversity. She was raised on a fairly poor farm during the Depression. Her father was killed in a wagon accident when she was 14, one that sent her mother into a depression. Her older brothers went to war, so she went to college (I believe the only one in her family to graduate from college). Mom and Dad had a happy marriage, but after about 20 years and five children, Dad got sick and Mom had to really support the family.  Then Dad died in 1989, so she has been a widow for 25 years—but she continued teaching school, substituting until she was in her 80s (once for the football coach as she loved to tell), and working at Foley’s until then as well. sc00373bf8-002She watched first her 7 brothers, then her two sisters precede her in death—along with all of their spouses, until she was the last of her family.  Mom was strong!
      • We learned to be curious from Mom! I grew up thinking that Mom was the Mom and Dad was the intellectual one in the family! I wasn’t wrong about Dad, but when Mom started at FWC, she was the Home Economics teacher, and they asked her to design the first home economics lab—which she did—without asking Dad…Wow! Then they asked her to teach high school chemistry—because she had had Chemistry in college 20 years earlier—before they had even invented atoms!! Then they asked her to teach Chemistry at the college level!  And she loved it!  Then, one day, they asked her to teach Microbiology the following year, so that summer she took Microbiology at TCU, so she could teach it the following year. I remember clearly her getting up at 4 in the morning and studying the lesson so she could teach it to her students.  /////    She loved taking the Grandkids out to the backyard to look for snakes or frogs or worms.  In fact, even after Dad was gone, we’d come to visit her from Oklahoma and Sherry and I would get up, hoping for the smell of bacon, but rather finding her and our children all out in the backyard doing “experiments” or something.  It wasn’t unusual to find a centipede or something in a bottle of formaldehyde in her pantry—sometime the refrigerator!!  Even in these last couple of years, she learned to use an IPad that Gary gave her. She also kept large medical books near so she could read up on whatever medicine the doctor had just prescribed for her.IMG_0444-001
    • Mom was so curious about God—not in a theological way, but in a very practical way. At the end of her questions, one of her favorite phrases was, “Life is a Mystery!”  Some curious people like Mom choose to turn their back on God because they can’t know everything.  Mom taught us to just believe—especially when you don’t know all the answers.  Mom was not one of those of the older generation who was afraid to die because she might not have done enough!  She may have raised that question occasionally—as all of us do who want to please God more than anything else and fall short!   No, Mom was a doer—even when she couldn’t find the answers to her mysteries.
    • One of our earliest pictures of her as a mother is teaching the toddlers at Sunday school at the old Riverside congregation. She always taught SS at Eastridge. I don’t know how many flannel graph characters I have cut out for her. She did backyard VBS at our tiny house.  She stopped teaching so much at church when she started teaching school, but I suspect all her classes were implicitly Bible classes.  In these last years, she loved going to Mission Printing to prepare literature for mission churches—even bringing it home with her when she couldn’t go.  She was a FriendSpeak worker and had a couple of young women that she helped with their English, but using the Let’s Start Talking material based on the book of Luke to share her faith with them.  She loved going to church—was there two weeks ago—and she and her sweet caretaker Lydell even used her IPad to stream services and sermons when she didn’t feel like going.  They read the Bible and prayed together every day.  Even fact, because they had missed it that morning that Mom lost consciousness, Lydell went in at 2:30am and had her devotional together with her—her last one, just a couple of hours before she died.  Mom loved God. And she wanted her family and friends to love God too.
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    • Have you heard the old joke about God writing a letter to all the good people on earth? Do you know what it said?  What, you didn’t get one!  Mom used to write letters too. I’m quite sure all of us children have had one, some of the grandchildren, and maybe some of you here in the audience as well.  If Mom was worried about you spiritually, then you might very well get a letter from her.  She was not going to confront you and have a long talk. But if she was worried about you, you could be certain she was praying for you and that you might get a letter. In these letters, she would tell you she loved you, that she was praying for you, but that you better get your life right with God!  These letters were not always well-received, but I know they were always well-intentioned, written from  the heart of a woman who loved her family and loved God—and she wanted all of us to share eternity with her!
  • It’s a happy day because Mom loved being with her church family. She tried to never miss any service; she loved the potlucks; she loved Game Night!; she came to Visitation Night;  within the last couple of months, she attended the shower for a young mother from College Hill. Getting old was not an excuse to retire from church. You don’t retire from being family. It was hard for Mom to get to family events this last year or two, but she did not miss anything!!  Christmas dinner this year was quite an ordeal for her, but she told me when I took her home how wonderful it was—how much she enjoyed watching the children—no amount of chaos, no amount of infirmity could steal her joy of being with family.

And this church loved her so well. Until she was about 83, she was still driving and picking up the “old people” for church! But when she needed your help, so many of you were there to help her too. The Wasners were her lifeline to her church family for these last few years! We can’t thank you enough for what you did.


Mom was not perfect! It is not our place to confess her sins, but she would be the first to tell you that she was saved by the tender mercy of Jesus.

“Blessed are the dead in die in the Lord! For they rest from their labor and their works will follow them.  (Rev. 14:13)

Mom is happy. She’s together with Dad; with her 11 brothers and sisters whom she loved dearly, and she’s with the whole church who is singing and praising the glory of God and the mercy of Jesus.  She’s also looking for something she can do to be of service.  Somebody will have to remind her that she can rest!

We her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, her nephews and nieces, her neighbors and church family—we are the good works that follow after her!  She is with God, but her legacy are the lives that we live as a result of her work in us.

God gave her 91 years and she used all of them until she had nothing left!  We will honor her if we do the same with however many years God gives us—that’s what she would want—and if you don’t, she may still figure out a way to send you a letter!

We love you, Mom!  We will see you soon. We know it is well with your soul!Wood28-001

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Martin_Luther_King_Jr_St_Paul_Campus_U_MNI can’t remember ever believing that I had absolute freedom to say whatever I wanted to say. 

Terrorists in France attack and kill cartoonists for publishing words and pictures that Muslims find offensive—sometimes even blasphemous.  The world media is appalled at the attack on what many consider a basic human right, that is, freedom of speech.

Most Christians in the United States would stand on the side of freedom of speech, but we are sometimes among the first to want to censor those who oppose what we believe to be true.

Moving out of the world arena and into just a congregational context for a minute, think about how “freedom of speech” is sometimes controlled and/or completely censored among Christians.

I personally know of one congregation where the leadership does not want non-Christian visitors to attend services because they might say something that was not true!  The argument is that if they say something that is not true, then that might lead other people to follow them into untruth.

I know of another congregation where the preacher was instructed never to talk about hell because one of the leaders of the congregation doesn’t believe in hell and nobody wants to offend him.

Some forms of censorship at church are more subtle.  How many of our congregations, for instance, would tolerate the preacher saying anything positive about Obamacare from the pulpit?  Or what about anything negative about the U.S. military establishment? Or something complimentary of Pope Francis?

And it is not just the preacher whose freedom of speech bumps into arbitrary boundaries. I just heard about two congregations who weren’t speaking at all to each other because one of the churches refused to speak out publicly, condemning the use of musical instruments in the assembly.  They were not actually using instruments, but they wouldn’t/didn’t judge others who did. They would not say the right words, so other Christians won’t speak to them!

No one really believes in absolute freedom of speech.  All believe in laws against libel, that is, purposefully publishing damaging remarks about someone which you know are not true.  We Americans don’t believe anyone has the right to threaten the life of the president.

Once we were driving to California when Sherrylee saw a minivan that was splashed with painted slogans all over in 1960s hippie fashion.  The largest words painted on the side which we passed said, “Kill Obama!”  Or so we thought.

She called 911 and reported this to the local police who promised to investigate.  Shortly, thereafter, she got a call on her cell phone from the Secret Service wanting more details, and asking her if it were possible that the painted van said “Kill Osama,” not “Kill Obama,” since they had found and investigated people in an anti-Osama minivan matching her description!  Oops!

God talks a lot about speech—but I don’t think He ever mentions free speech.

Today, at LST we read Ephesians 4, where the Holy Spirit through St. Paul speaks about speech.  These are good words for all of us to hold on to:

          15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. . . .

        Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. . . .

         29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. . . . . 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Something seems to be more important than freedom of speech and that is the truthfulness and the intent of the words, as well as the heart from which the words come.

       “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1)

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